By Roberto Pedone

WINDERMERE, Florida ( Stockpickr) -- Copper is printing fresh four-month highs today, off reports out of China that its manufacturing economy saw a moderate expansion in August after slowing down for several months. China's official purchasing managers index rose to 51.7 in August from 51.2 in July, exceeding forecasts, according to a government-baked report.

Three-month delivery of copper surged around 2% to $7,585 a metric ton off the news, the highest level it has seen since April 27.

What's interesting about the recent uptrend in copper is that the bulls have been pushing it up while the overall economic numbers have been coming in weaker than expected. This shows that copper has been in a counter-trend rally with the metal also advancing, while bonds are going up and stocks trending down.

This is not normally how copper will trade, since this precious metal is often thought of as a leading economic indicator. So either both equity investors and bond investors have it wrong, or copper investors have it wrong. Time will soon tell if copper players are on the right side of the trade or if their bullishness is misguided.

It's very possible that the copper-players are piling into the commodity ahead of better economic times down the road. The message from the market could be that the bad economic news is mostly priced in, since copper has been trending strong in the last couple of months. If this is the case, investors are going to want to start searching for some top copper stocks to play this possible new uptrend.

Here 's a look at a number of stocks that offer investors exposure to copper.
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One of the easiest ways for an investor to gain exposure to copper is through ETFs. While there is no physically backed copper ETF, the iPath Dow Jones Copper Index ( JJC) is about as close as it gets. This ETF seeks investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the Dow Jones-UBS Copper Total Return Sub-Index. Keep in mind that this ETF is designed to reflect the performance on copper contracts.

From a technical standpoint, the JJC is starting to break above some previous resistance at around $45.67 a share. If this breakout can hold, look for the stock to make a run at testing its recent highs of $49.51. It's worth noting, that the JJC is trading above both the 50-day and 200-day moving averages, which is normally a bullish trend indicator.

Another ETF that will give an investor exposure to copper is the PowerShares DB Base Metals ( DBB), which is based on the Deutsche Bank Liquid Commodity Index. The index is a rule-based index composed of futures contracts on some of the most liquid and widely used base metals, like aluminum, zinc and copper. Over 34% of the total assets of the DBB are invested in copper future contracts.

From a technical standpoint, the DBB is currently bumping up against some resistance at the 200-day moving average of $20.58 a share. If this commodities ETF can manage to trade above the 200-day and above some more overhead resistance at $21 a share, then I think it can easily make a run towards $23.50 or higher.

Investors can also play copper by having exposure to copper miners. Two excellent ways to gain a more diversified approach to copper miners is to buy the First Trust ISE Global Copper Index ( CU) and the Global X Copper Miners ETF ( COPX). Both of these ETFs track baskets of copper mining stocks. By playing these ETFs, you will lower your overall risk to just one copper miner equity, and you'll be able to capture gains if the sector trends higher.

Some of the top holdings in the First Trust ISE Global Copper Index include names such as Rio Tinto ( RTP) and Southern Copper ( SCCO). Both of these companies are big favorites among the equity trading community for plays on copper.

Equity traders also love to play Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold ( FCX) when they're looking to reap big gains of moves in copper. This company is a copper, gold and molybdenum mining firm. This stock has a market cap of 35 billion, trades at a forward P/E of 9 and has a dividend yield of 1.7%.

From a technical standpoint, I would watch for Freeport to take out some previous overhead resistance at around $76.25 a share. A move above that level could set the stock up for a move back toward the low to mid-$90s.

>>>Also see: 10 Large-Caps With Fastest Sales Growth

Another way to play copper is to buy equities that are tied to Chile and Peru, the top two copper producers in the world. Chile is so heavily tied to copper that over a third of the world's copper supply comes from this region. Currently, Peru sits as the world's second-largest copper producer after the South American nation overtook the spot from the U.S. in 2009. Both the iShares MSCI Chile ( ECH) and the iShares MSCI All Peru Capped Index ( EPU) are great ways to play these copper-rich emerging markets.

To see more stocks that could benefit from the rise in copper, including Teck Resources ( TCK) and Taseko Mines ( TGB), check out the Top Copper Stocks portfolio on Stockpickr.

-- Written by Roberto Pedone in Winderemere, Fla.

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At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.

Roberto Pedone, based out of Windermere, Fla., is an independent trader who focuses on stocks, options, futures, commodities and currencies. He is also an outside contributor to Beconequity.com and maintains the website Maddmoney.net, which he sold to Blue Wave Advisors in 2008. Roberto studied International Business at The Milwaukee School of Engineering, and he spent a year overseas studying business in Lubeck, Germany.

Stockpickr is a wholly owned subsidiary of TheStreet.com.

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